It’s never, ever, ever good enough. Work on a draft until you reach a point of preposterously diminished returns. Then let it sit a month, and start a new draft.
I have to take a deep breath before I start the first full revision. I used to hate myself for procrastinating, but now I see it might be wise. You need to pause in holy fear at what you’ve done, and make sure you don’t wreck it in panic.
Source: The New York Times
There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.
I’ve been writing seriously for thirty years, and less seriously for more… I don’t go back and look at my early work, because the last time I did, many years ago, it left me cringing. If one publishes, then one is creating a public record of Learning to Write. My first two books, I know, are full of energy, and there are sentences I still like here and there, but mostly they are chock-full of mistakes of judgment and taste and sensibility. I did not have the skill to take on some of the material I took on, even when the material was fairly stock or meager. But that inadequacy, or feeling of inadequacy, never really goes away. You just have to trudge ahead in the rain, regardless.
I think that for people like me, literature is a comfort, a way of feeling less alone. It is also a way to live lives not one’s own, to expand experience quickly, to destroy solipsism to whatever extent that might be possible. But literature isn’t any more pure than the world it does or doesn’t intend to represent, and it can be used to destructive ends, and people who are awash in it can commit atrocities the same as people who aren’t. A Shakespeare scholar was one of the authors of genocide in the Balkans, and almost every nationalistic awfulness has tried to hitch its wagon to the national culture, literature included. That said, I think I’d rather spend time with people who read broadly and deeply. They tend to be smarter, more interesting, more likely to have a little societal compassion (but not always). Ultimately: life is not long, most of the things we chase come to naught, the things that don’t aren’t lasting anyway, and the people who make literature at least have the comfort of knowing that they made somebody they’ll never meet feel something in a future moment that can only be imagined, hopefully with great pleasure.
The idea of writing about a time and place I have no personal experience with, especially one so unbearable, was more than a little intimidating. The way I chose to think about it was that, inevitably, each of us fails to communicate a thing so huge, so terrible, but perhaps all our voices together begin to describe the truth. I am just adding one more small voice. Also, time is going to pass—we will move farther and farther away from those unspeakable events. After September 11, everyone put never forget bumper stickers on their cars. I don’t think they were worried that the facts of the event would be forgotten, but the feeling. The way to keep from losing a feeling is for each person to find his or her own way in.
“A memory. Ada became an adult with all of her baby brightness intact, fully realized and elaborated. And I wouldn’t have to witness her unwinding and diminishing. That would be her daughter’s burden. But I knew this was not even true. I knew other horrors awaited. I knew that just as I was starting to fall apart right in front of my mother, just as I knew my mother must note my sad middle-aged visage, I knew I would live long enough to see Ada start to grow old. Already when I see her I notice how she looks more tired in tiny ways. I would live to see her get crow’s-feet and gray hair and hands that showed veins. I would see her feet and her neck change. I would see the perfection of her body be undone by time. I might live to see her lonely, divorced, unhappy, and a hundred other disappointments. What you don’t think about or plan for (as if that helps) is watching your children get old. The privilege of a long life is you live long enough to see your perfect child also submit to time and aging.”
—Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
Simultaneity: the dream of getting that on the page. The composer has counterpoint. Or more typically: harmony. In pop music, bass line, drum, keyboard, vocal, etc. Many layers in the simplest piece of music, but in writing? One voice at a time, the tyranny of the singular. Not that words aren’t freighted with multiple associations, not that we don’t have puns, rhymes. But how does one begin to write consciousness on the page? Virginia Woolf made use of parentheses. David Foster Wallace tried the foot note. As D.T. Max says, the foot note was D.F.W.’s way to capture ‘all the caveats, micro-thoughts, meta-moments, of [the] hyperactive mind.’ But all that leaping about, all those gaps in time between taking in the primary text and its subordinates. It doesn’t exactly happen with the grace of the fugue, even if there is something oddly stimulating about being wrenched back and forth between two tracks. It’s a little like being in the hands of a taxing trainer, who tells you to do ten lunges, ten chin ups, ten lunges again.